Ring Lardner Jr., the son of the famous journalist and humorist, Ring Lardner, was born on 19th August, 1915. After being educated at Princeton University he became a reporter on the New York Daily Mirror.
Lardner held strong left-wing views and during the Spanish Civil War he helped raise funds for the Popular Front government. His younger brother, James Lardner, went to Spain as a newspaper reporter. As John Gates later pointed out in his autobiography: "One day, he asked me what I thought about his volunteering for the Lincoln Battalion. I told him that the war was in its final stages, that things looked bad. The stream of volunteers from the States had stopped. Lardner volunteered. The morale of the men in the Brigade was strongly affected at the news. In the last days of action by the Lincoln Battalion, young Lardner was killed."
Lardner began writing his own material, this included Woman of the Year, a film that won an Academy Award for the best screenplay in 1942. Other notable scripts included The Cross of Lorraine (1943), Marriage Is a Private Affair (1944), Laura (1944), Brotherhood of Man (1946), Cloak and Dagger (1946) and Forever Amber (1947)
Lardner was an active member of the Screen Writers and Authors Guild. He was also involved in organizing anti-fascist demonstrations. Although his political involvement upset the owners of the film studios, he continued to be given work and in 1947 became one of the highest paid scriptwriters in Hollywood when he signed a contract with 20th Century Fox at $2,000 a week.
After the Second World War the House Un-American Activities Committee began an investigation into the Hollywood Motion Picture Industry. In September 1947, the HUAC interviewed 41 people who were working in Hollywood. These people attended voluntarily and became known as "friendly witnesses". During their interviews they named several people who they accused of holding left-wing views.
In 1947 nineteen members of the film industry who were suspected of being communists were called to appear before the House of Un-American Activities Committee. This included Lardner, Herbert Biberman, Alvah Bessie, Lester Cole, Albert Maltz, Adrian Scott, Dalton Trumbo, Edward Dmytryk, Samuel Ornitz, John Howard Lawson, Larry Parks, Waldo Salt, Bertolt Brecht, Richard Collins, Gordon Kahn, Robert Rossen, Lewis Milestone and Irving Pichel.
Lardner appeared before the HUAC on 30th October, 1947, but like Alvah Bessie, Herbert Biberman, Albert Maltz, Adrian Scott, Dalton Trumbo, Lester Cole, Edward Dmytryk, Samuel Ornitz and John Howard Lawson, he refused to answer any questions. Known as the Hollywood Ten, they claimed that the 1st Amendment of the United States Constitution gave them the right to do this. Lardner refused to confirm that he was a member of the Screen Writers Guild and the American Communist Party. He told John Parnell Thomas that he was unwilling to answer the follow-up question on identifying other members of these organisations. He added: "It depends on the circumstances. I could answer it, but if I did I would hate myself in the morning." He told the New York Herald Tribune: "I have always associated the words I'll hate myself in the morning with a situation in which a previously chaste woman is succumbing to the indecent blandishment of a scoundral and very likely launching herself on the road to prostitution. That is the analogy I wished to suggest."
Lardner had written a statement but he was not allowed to read it to the House of Un-American Activities Committee. It included an account of his record of screen writing: "My principal occupation is that of screen writer, I have contributed to more than a dozen motion pictures, among them Woman of the Year, for which I received an Academy Award. The Cross of Lorraine, about the anti-fascist movement in France during the war, the screen version of the play Tomorrow the World, about the effects of Nazi education, Cloak and Dagger, about the heroic work of our Office of Strategic Services, and an animated cartoon called The Brotherhood of Man, based on the pamphlet, The Races of Mankind, and exposing the myth that any inherent differences exist among people of different skin color and geographical origin.... My record includes no anti-democratic word or act, no spoken or written expression of anti-Semitism, anti-Negro feeling or opposition to American democratic principles as I understand them."
The House Un-American Activities Committee and the courts during appeals disagreed with the Hollywood Ten and all were found guilty of contempt of Congress and Lardner was sentenced to twelve months in Danbury Federal Correctional Institution and fined $1,000. Lardner was sacked by 20th Century Fox on 28th October, 1947.
Lardner and his wife decided to go and live in Mexico City. They were joined by their friends, Ian McLellan Hunter, Dalton Trumbo, Hugo Butler, Jean Rouverol and Albert Maltz. On Saturday mornings this group and their children used to have picnic lunches and play baseball together. The FBI were spying on them in Mexico and according to declassified reports, the agents believed that these picnics were cover for "Communist meetings." They were later joined by Martha Dodd and Frederick Vanderbilt Field.
Blacklisted by the Hollywood studios, Lardner worked for the next couple of years on the novel, The Ecstasy of Owen Muir (1954). In 1955 Lardner and Ian McLellan Hunter moved back to the United States and went to live in Manhattan. The two men were approached by Hannah Weinstein, a blacklisted journalist who had moved to London. As Lardner later explained: "Hannah, the former executive secretary of the leftish Independent Citizen Committee of the Arts, Sciences, and Professions, was living in England and running a TV production company.... We were grateful, as well, to find that Hannah had chosen, for our maiden effort in the new medium, a literary property filled with stimulating possibilities. Set in medieval England and filmed largely in around Hannah's appropriately historic estate, Foxwarren, outside London, The Adventures of Robin Hood gave us plenty of opportunities for oblique social comment on the issues and institutions of Eisenhower-era America. And the series was a great success. Using our pilot script and a preview of episodes to come, Hannah sold the package to networks on both sides of the Atlantic; with Richard Greene in the title role, Robin Hood ran for four years, generating profits for everyone concerned and perhaps, in some small way, setting the stage for the 1960s by subverting a whole new generation of young Americans." Adrian Scott and Robert Lees also worked as writers on The Adventures of Robin Hood.
Lardner also wrote under several pseudonyms before the blacklist was lifted. Lardner's later work included The Cincinnati Kid (1965), MASH (1970), for which he won another Academy Award, and The Greatest (1977). His autobiography, I'd Hate Myself in the Morning, was published in 2000.
Ring Lardner Jr died on 31st October 2000.